Editorial: Wellington needs more houses

Grenada residents say a planned 150-house development for their suburb would be a "socially unacceptable" addition.

Grenada residents say a planned 150-house development for their suburb would be a "socially unacceptable" addition.

OPINION: Wellington's house prices are far too high – and for the past year they have only gone up.

This will be having all the predictable consequences: families and young people shouldering vastly more debt, more hours at work, more stress, and longer commutes from distant neighbourhoods – if they can sneak onto the property ladder at all.

Why Wellington's market has shot upwards is something of a mystery. The region is growing economically, and debt remains cheap, but the population is still relatively static. Perhaps some of the heat from Auckland's obscenely overpriced housing market has moved southwards.

But there are other crucial factors too, and the powers that be must act more decisively to reverse them.

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Chief among them is housing supply. Wellington city, especially, is simply not building enough houses.

It's true that its topography is often challenging. The recent earthquakes may also put a dampener on new apartment construction.

But there will always be a large appetite for dwellings relatively close to the city, and there must be the settings to accommodate many more of them.

All of this is fine in theory – and as long as it stays in that form, most people agree with it.

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When it shows up in their neighbourhood, however, they revolt. Consider the protests issuing from the northern Wellington suburb of Grenada last week over a 150-home fast-tracked development.

Residents of various suburbs around Wellington, from Khandallah to Kilbirnie, have voiced concerns about "medium density" areas promoted by Wellington City Council.

Another stoush is unfolding in Newtown over an apartment block proposed by Mary Potter Hospice.

Some even object to the early drawings of Ian Cassels' proposed $500 million redevelopment of uninhabited and broken-down Shelly Bay.

Of course there can be some reasonable argument about the particular merits of each project, including over design. No-one wants badly-built blocks anywhere in the city, ripe for becoming slums.

It is also reasonable to ask if a cherry-picked "special housing area" approach is the fairest – or whether a much broader loosening of the rules across the city might be preferable.

And it's true, too, that homeowner anxiety is not the only problem plaguing the housing market. Land-banking, tax treatment, low interest rates, strong employment and even a lack of willing developers in some choice areas are all contributing to the problem.

Yet the sense that Wellington can have its cake and eat it – that homeowners can preserve their neighbourhoods in amber while everyone tut-tuts gently over those cut out of the market – is a nonsense.

There is a trade-off. Each project that is shouted down, or sneered at, or trimmed to the point of becoming unviable, is a blow to affordability.

In a city where average house prices are north of six times household income, that is not acceptable. The council and the Government must keep looking for tools to see new houses built, until this problem is solved.

High house prices are already affecting the character and diversity of Wellington and opportunities for its people. That urgently needs to change.

 - The Dominion Post


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